Saturday, 14 November 2009

So why am I so keen on Linux?

I've been trying to dissect my career, certifications and interests, and how the three don't really match up.

You see, I'm a Microsoft certified Professional (and now Technology Specialist, soon to be IT Professional, exams, exams, exams). I have been since 1997, when I first sat the Windows 95 MCP exam. I didn't really know what I was doing it for, except that employers wanted to see that sort of thing. I'd been using '95 since a few months after the release, when I went out and bought a copy.

Since then, my career has moved from technical support on desktops, to the point now where I'm quite comfortable giving advice to large organisations on how best to spend a million or so dollars (Euros, etc). This is not small-time stuff, I've advised corporations and governments on how to do mergers and streamlining, and how technology can support their immediate and long-term goals. I've solved interesting problems fraught with politics (but I'm nowhere near arrogant enough to deal with that effortlessly), and sometimes I get to have some fun.

It struck me on an assignment in June 2008 that I had zero allegiance. I'd been sent off to see how best a pharmaceutical company could make use of it's new acquisition, a prominent retail brand in it's sector. The big guy had Microsoft Exchange, the little guy had Notes. they kinda knew where they wanted to be after the merger, that it didn't make sense to keep two teams doing the same role on different platforms. Makes sense.

As I dug deeper, I noticed that the e-mail and collaboration part of the story was not all that important. As is the norm for Notes, a little ecosystem of apps had been developed. However, whereas most organisations tend to have a cluster of disparate Notes apps, the small guy had a plan, a comprehensive one too that made an application platform out of Notes, and a rich set of interconnected apps delivering business intelligence, dashboarding, some data mining. Wow.

So in the end, all my credentials (and by then I'd achieved five Microsoft qualifications) meant nothing, since it made no sense to throw notes out, or even relegate it to an application platform and move all e-mail to Exchange. So my recommendation was to ditch Exchange, at the very least for user e-mail.

That's kind of my point. I'm not a standard bearer, but I am a flag waver. My days of technology for tech's sake are behind me. Don't get me wrong, tech is cool and I'm always drooling over the latest gadget or software release, but when it comes to my work it has to mean something, be pointed in a particular direction, support a bigger plan.

So frankly, I'd be negligent if I just supported Microsoft's plans. Or any other platform for that matter. It disappoints me to see MS and FOSS guys going head-to-head. I enjoy using Linux for the same reason people tinker with classic cars. Sure, the new model from the dealer is likely to be more fuel-efficient, safer, better riding. But I like to get my hands dirty, and you can't do that with most modern cars.

I don't know if I've made a point here, but maybe I don't need to.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Well blow me down, a phone call

So, I just got a call from my local (Benelux) Sun Education rep to discuss my question on the impossibly steep pricing on their exams (for individuals anyway). He went through the usual blurb about how pricing is fixed, and at one point encouraged me to seek a SQL Server exam instead of MySQL, since it's cheaper

That is until Oracle takes over. Apparently their exam pricing is cheaper, but pigs will fly before prices drop I reckon.

I did get the feeling he didn't want to put anything in writing, partly because he couldn't make his point as eloquently if I had the chance to object formally (though I agreed with a lot of what he said), but I think also so as not to get nailed down. He didn't budge though, despite appealing to my potential as a fanboy.

What piqued my interest is how the rep mentioned "When Oracle takes over Sun, prcing is likely to come down as Oracle exams are cheaper than Sun at the moment.".

Really, he said "when". Last I checked the EU still had some issues to take on before this can all proceed...

So why on earth does certification cost so much?

I'm in a foul mood.

Here's what I wrote to my local Sun Education Centre:

I would like to sit the Certified MySQL Associate exam.
On the MySQL website I am informed that the cost of sitting an exam is around $200 plus any local taxes etc (, which should be around €135. However, booking your exam costs €280 incl VAT, DOUBLE the price in the US.

I am not being sent on a course by my company. I have not had learning materials bought for me, nor is anyone other than me intending to pay for the cost of the exam, I am doing this out of my own pocket. I am intending to take this exam to demonstrate my PERSONAL skill at MySQL, and my willingness to use it. I am certified by Microsoft since 1999, and so tend to labelled a Microsoft guy, when in fact I have skills across the IT landscape. Getting a MySQL Associate certification is one
of my ways of doing that.

I'm disappointed the exam is set at such a high price. I took a Microsoft exam this morning, and I paid €119,00 incl VAT for the privelege. It also included use of a virtual lab hosted by Prometric, when the CMA exam is purely multiple-choice. The exam was three hours long, instead of the 60 minutes of the CMA exam.

This means that somehow the CMA exam is around seven times as expensive per hour!

I WANT to demonstrate my passion for platforms (and companies) other than Microsoft, I don't understand why I would need to pay an exorbitant rate to promote your product. Please re-read the last sentence; your company benefits here, for which you expect to be paid a high fee.

If your standard response is something like "the prices are set", then please make sure you also add that your lack of desire to have me certified and promote your products is as clearly stated. Seriously, this is an ENTRY LEVEL exam, 60 minutes, multiple choice. How this can be priced the same as your more advanced products is beyond me.

I wonder what kind of reply I'll get?